State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

As impasse ends, Democrats are a frustrated minority

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 25, 2016 3:10 PM
Costa_AP.jpg

Photo by The Associated Press/Chris Knight


Democratic state lawmakers who were reliable backers of Governor Tom Wolf's agenda during the budget impasse say they may not stick so closely to his side in the next year.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said his caucus will do some soul-searching ahead of the next round of budget negotiations, after coming away with so little from the budget impasse.

"We might go down a different path," Costa told reporters Wednesday. "I don't know where we'll end up."

To be sure, Wolf's alliance with legislative Democrats wasn't perfect. House Democrats rebuffed a pension overhaul plan in December, even though it was endorsed by the governor and a central piece of a budget deal. A test vote for a tax plan backed by Wolf couldn't win the entire House Democratic caucus last October.

But Senate Democrats made tough votes to pass a key pension bill late last year. Minority Leader Jay Costa cast his "aye" for a liquor privatization plan largely hated by his members, just to show his support for the wide-ranging budget compromise being pursued by the governor. In January, Senate Democrats blocked funding for state-related universities, sticking with Wolf to hold out for a better spending agreement. It was a hold-out that ended this week.

To side with the governor through all that and then get a final budget without any of their priorities has been quite the bitter pill for Senate Democrats.

"We have been standing lockstep in defense of what the governor wanted to do because we agree with him," Costa said. "I think we're going to evaluate where we need to be as a caucus."

Earlier this week, Senate Democrats were among those imploring the governor to renege on his veto threat for the GOP-crafted budget bill he will allow to lapse into law. Philadelphia Sen. Vincent Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, had said he wasn't sure the entire caucus would be able to side with Wolf if Republican lawmakers tried a veto-override.

Costa and Hughes remain frustrated about the broken promises that prolonged the commonwealth's nearly nine-months-long budget stalemate: House Democrats refusing to pony up any votes for a pension overhaul; House Republicans refusing to hold a vote on a negotiated budget compromise.

One of the lessons of the entire impasse, Costa said, is to be "more skeptical" of all sides.

"What we are looking for is a sincere, honest, keep-your-word type of an agreement," said Costa.

He's not sure his caucus members will find it in Pennsylvania.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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